Unless you have experienced the loss of someone you love, you will not truly understand the grieving process. Then again, even if you know how it feels for you, it can be very difficult to explain it to others.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to explaining grief is that the feelings can come and go. How do you put into words a sadness that is so profound and constantly on the move? We weren’t made to deal with that type of loss so having a clear explanation is important.
Lauren Herschel is a Twitter user who posted a thread explaining grief and it went viral. Her analogy of ‘the ball and the box’ struck a chord with many others.
Herschel’s doctor first shared how grief is triggered in the brain.
After what has been a surprisingly okayish Christmas, I had a moment today in SuperStore. Saw a lady who reminded me of my 92yo grandma, who even in the early stages of dementia, completely understood that my mom died.— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
I thought I’d share the Ball in the Box analogy my Dr told me pic.twitter.com/YfFT26ffU8
So grief is like this:— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
There’s a box with a ball in it. And a pain button.
And no, I am not known for my art skills. pic.twitter.com/XDwCCdXVkc
In the beginning, the ball is huge. You can’t move the box without the ball hitting the pain button. It rattles around on its own in there and hits the button over and over. You can’t control it – it just keeps hurting. Sometimes it seems unrelenting. pic.twitter.com/Wcas2p4vab— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
The theory says grief is a ball in a box with a pain button inside. The ball is the largest right after we experience loss, so almost any action will trigger the pain button. Eventually, the grief ball shrinks and doesn’t activate the pain button as often.
Over time, the ball gets smaller. It hits the button less and less but when it does, it hurts just as much. It’s better because you can function day to day more easily. But the downside is that the ball randomly hits that button when you least expect it. pic.twitter.com/fevAttojBg— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
For most people, the ball never really goes away. It might hit less and less and you have more time to recover between hits, unlike when the ball was still giant.— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
I thought this was the best description of grief I’ve heard in a long time.
The ball may get smaller but it never fully goes away. It may also activate the pain button when you least expect it. At times, the ball may even grow larger, even though you thought it had shrunk.
I told my step dad about the ball in the box (with even worse pictures). He now uses it to talk about how he’s feeling.— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) December 29, 2017
“The Ball was really big today. It wouldn’t lay off the button. I hope it gets smaller soon.”
Slowly it is.
It wasn’t long before others were talking about how grief has affected them.
I want you to know that this is literally one of the best things I have ever read on Twitter… #theballgetssmaller ♥️♥️♥️— Lauryn Norton (@laurynnorton) January 19, 2018
I’m glad you liked it! It’s awesome so many people are finding it useful and accurate— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) January 19, 2018
It is SO accurate. I am a nurse and lost my grandpa in a very bad way last year and this is one of the first things I've read that completely matches my grief…— Lauryn Norton (@laurynnorton) January 19, 2018
Thanks Lauren! I lost both parents within 9 days. I’ve got two balls in my box. This analogy helps! pic.twitter.com/DxZMO7bx58— Jeff Davenport (@jeffdavenport) March 24, 2018
That must have been tough. I lost my dad 22 years ago & that ball had gotten a lot smaller – but when my mom was dying last fall, I was surprised how much that seemed to re-activate the “Dad” ball, while I was pre-grieving & then grieving her. So I understand the two ball notion— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) March 24, 2018
One woman said that we all must eventually face it, so we might as well have a language for it.
One thing I find amazing and horrifying is that we all have to travel this path of grief at some point in our lives. It is inescapable. All deal with it differently, & partly due to situation. My 21yo sister was killed 6.5 months ago. My ball is still incredibly big… /1— Emily Gibson (@emegibson) January 12, 2018
But I'm hopeful that justice for her death, time and actually coming out of survival mode and getting help to face this with make it easier. Thanks for sharing. And sending you &your family 💙./End— Emily Gibson (@emegibson) January 12, 2018
I’m really sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine what it is like for you. These things definitely make people stronger once we get through the worst of it.— Lauren Herschel (@LaurenHerschel) January 13, 2018
I hope you don't mind, I kinda stole this and put it in a notebook I keep for mental health/self help stuff to refer back to. It resonates so much with me right now. Thank you for sharing. pic.twitter.com/Q9TjlCpuPX— angelica (@ReinaDeLaIsla) February 7, 2018
A wise lady once told me that the pain you feel when you lose someone important is there to remind us how important they were, and to remind us to think about those people we still have who are important, and we should maybe let them know they’re important to us— AL 🇨🇦 (@AlertCalgarian) January 12, 2018
Hopefully, this little word picture will help people to approach their grief in a different way.